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i'm matt lauer. thanks for joining us. his memoir is called decision points. president george w. bush came to washington amid protests, guided the country through tragedy and more than once stirred controversy. now over the course of two wide-ranging conversations, the former president speaks about it all. extremely candid about his best and toughest times starting with day one.
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>> i want to take you to inauguration day in 2001, january. what were your thoughts, your expectations of that day? >> i knew it would be an emotional moment and a moment. i wanted to try to try united the country. >> you're in the motorcade and you write about this. >> yeah. >> and you and pliz bush are heading to the white house and there are protesters, a lot of them. and they're holds signs with foul language and they're giving you the middle finger salute and some of those signs say "hail to the thief,". >> yeah. >> and they're throwing eggs. >> yeah. this crowd of activists were, you know, trying to disrupt and ruin the inaugural parade for others. >> you write about you're in the limo and you're in a bulletproof glass. >> it was like a pantomime.
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>> the florida recount, hanging chads, the divided spriem court. george bush had a rough road to the white house. a road made rougher by his own missteps. we met in the texas church where he started bible study and married his wife laura. there he shared some remarkable stories about his family that he's never told before. >> and one of them is a poignant story you tell about your mom, about your mom having a miscarriage when you were just a teenager, and you were the one who drove her to the hospital and you write, quote, i never expected to see the remains of the fetus which we had saved to the jar in a hospital. there was a human life, a brother or sister. you and she never talked publicly about this story until you were given permission. >> that's why you're asking me. i put the story in the book as a part of the tale. i thought it was very important
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for people to understand my relationship with my mom. >> what did you learn about her through that experience? >> one, she trusted me. and when you're a teenaged kid you're kind of a sufl-absorbed person and she says i trust you. it's a boost in confidence. i mean what i learned is she's a straightforward person. she says to her teenaged kid, here's a fetus. >> it's also not possible to draw parallels where at this moment you said this is a little brother or sister and that's your view on when life begins. >> no question it affected me, my philosophy, to respect life. i was a pro-life president, but the purpose of the story wasn't to show the evolution of a pro-life point of view. it was really to show how my mom and i developed a relationship. >> a relationship he strained at times, especially when as an adult he admits he was a heavy drinker. >> you called a west tks
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expression about guys who drink. you said last night he thought he was a ten. in fact he was an ass. >> that's right. does that describe how you'd get on occasions? >> yeah, i did. absolutely. i said some stupid things. >> tell me about the story at the dinner party. >> here's one of the worst. >> that's ooh what we want. we want the worst. >> you found it. so i'm drunk at the dinner table at mother and dad's house in maine and my brothers and sister are there, laura's there. i'm sitting there. a beautiful woman, friend of mother and dad's, and said to her out loud what is sex like after 50? total silence. not only silence but serious daggers. >> from your mom. >> yeah. and my wife. >> the point of the story is to say alcohol had a control other you and you did haven't control over it. >> yeah. that's right. >> he said his faith helped him
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quit cold turkey. >> throughout your presidency because people knew your background, you knew rumors would go around, he's drinking. so talk to me, during the most stressful times of your presidency, iraq, katrina, you never fell off the wagon? >> no. >> not a sip? >> not since 1986. >> no temptation. >> no, i through. >> he called it the most important decision of his life. eight years after he took his last drink he won his first election. >> you learn about a relationship between your father and you in a letter that he wrote to you on the occasion of you as governor texas. do you have your glasses? >> no. you'll have to read it. here's the thing you've got to understand. if you want me to weep, let me read some of the letters he's writ on the me as a son. >> yeah, let me read a part of it. >> thank you for doing that.
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>> these cufflinks are the most treasured possession. they were given to me from my mom and dad in 19 # 3 when i got my wings at navy, corpus christi. i want you to have them. you are in a sense getting your wings as you take the oath of office as our governor. you have sack rye fised, given us your unwavering loi loyalty and devotion. >> yeah. as i said i could barely get through it. i know there's a lot of psychobible out there that he and i compete and w. is trying to overshadow his father. i think people would be surprised to learn that this relationship is based upon love. i -- >> people would be surprised by that, he's your father. >> because it's not as complex some would like it to be. i admired him and he never disappointed me. he was always a great father. and so when it came time to run for president, i was motivated
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in part. i wanted to run. i had an agenda. i had a team. the truth of the matter, the final motivating factor was my admiration for george bush and i wondered what it would take to get into the arena like he did. >> launching his campaign he turned to an old hand. >> one of the first major decisions you had to make was choosing a running mate. >> right. >> you write in the book you went to dick cheney and said, dick, i want you to be my running mate. he said, i've got to talk to my wife and remember i have health issues. then he looked at you and said something else. mary is gay. >> yeah. >> mary is his daughter. >> yeah. >> what was your reaction. >> my reaction was two-fold. there's a guy that loves his daughter. secondly he's testing whether or not i cared about it.
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>> you write in your book aging and tolerance. there's nothing in your background that would have led you to believe he was intoler t intolerant. wasn't he thinking won't this be an issue? >> no, he's gauging my tolerance. >> if you had to rate it? i would rate it a good one. >> dick cheney would become one of the most polarizing figures in his administration, maybe in history, but that wasn't obvious when he took the oath of office in january, 2001. >> you had to be thinking how am i going to bring this country together based on emotions i'm seeing right here on day one. >> that's part of what i'm thinking. you're sworn in as president but you're not totally immersed many the job the next day when the cia comes in and says mr. president, here's your intelligence and all of a sudden the problems become your responsibility. >> talk about the problems becoming your responsibility. it was a tuesday, september 11th, 2001. >> yeah.
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it was a tuesday, september 11, 2001. you were at a school in florida. >> i was listening to children read their books. >> it was a scheduled appearance to promote education reform. he already knew one plane had hit the world trade center and thought it was an accident. then his chief of staff whispered in his ear. >> and andy says a second plane has hit the world trade center and america is under attack. >> they have a videotape of you sitting there. now we know in hindsight you had been given the news an you were sitting there. it had been seven minutes. >> that's right. i made the decision not to jump up and create a chaotic scene because people were going to be watching my reaction. >> and it's also in the eye of the beholder. the supporters say he was trying
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to show an air of calm. the critics say he was in shock. >> i'm not going to debate the critics as to whether or not i was in shock or not. i wasn't. they can read the book and they can draw their own conclusion. >> he made a brief statement at the school. >> terrorism against our nation will not stand. >> then he and hi staff boarded air force one. >> you said let's go back to washington, and they didn't let you. can you not overrule them at that period? >> i can, but there's an issue of the continuity of government. >> so air force one stayed away from the capital, flying first to louisiana and then to nebraska while incredibly president bush found it hard to get a reliable phone connection to washington. >> so i'm in air force one that had a communication system that was antekuwaited. >> i was surprised to read that. >> i was getting fleeting glimpses of the news. as we went from tv market to tv market i watched these buildings
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collapse from air force one, and it was -- it was a very emotional moment for all of us, not just me but for everybody involved. >> you gave an order at some point during that morning. there was still chaos. >> yeah. >> nobody knew if there were other planes yochl u had to give an order that the u.s. military had the authority to shoot down any plane, whether it was a cessna or a commercial airliner that did not respond to commands to land. >> right. we had made the decision to clear the skies of all aircraft. the only safe course of action was to say no airplanes, and any airplane that shows up that does not respond to flighter escort will be shot down. >> in fact, when that plane, fight 93 went down in shanksville there was a time you didn't know if it had went down because of your order. >> i had a sickening feeling and
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then i found out that it -- 93 had gone down because of the heroism of some americans, truly a heroic act, to storm the cockpit, the bring down the plane to save others' lives. >> he got back to washington that evening, a city and a country forever changed. >> a couple of days after 9/11 you gave a speech at the national cathedral. >> we're here in the middle hour of our grief. >> as you stood there delivering this powerful and important speech, you say the one place you dared not look is the pew containing your mother and your father and laura. >> yeah. i wanted to make sure that the speech was one in which i was able to deliver the message without being too emotional. during the speech i looked out and saw these servicemen crying and i thought, oh, my goodness, i'd better focus. and then i realized the one place that would cause me to
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have serious emotions would be watching laura or looking at mom and dad, so i didn't. >> you finished the speech, you walked back down and you sat in the pew and as you sat down, i'll never forget it. you dad reached over and put his hand on your hand. >> yeah. it was a very touching moment. i saw the replay on that. my recollection was still the same though. it was like good, going, son, i love you. it was just an expression of love. it was very powerful. >> it was later that day you went to new york city and went to ground zero. >> i did. >> describe the moment to me. >> well, first of all, we walked to i called it the pit. it seemed like we were walking into the pit. there was not only soot and grime and gray but there was water. it was like you were walking into hell. i got down into the bottom of the area there, and there was a palpable sense of revenge and
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anger, and i'm trying to be the comforter, and these guys are looking at me like, are you going to go get these guys or not. >> they were calling you george. >> that's right. that's fine. >> it wasn't mr. president. it was george. believe it was justice, not revenge. i was overwhelmed by the palpable anger and emotion and so i got on the rubble. >> as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens. i said we appreciate your service, this, that, and the other, and people were saying, we can't hear you. it wasn't kind of a soft "we can't hear you," it was a we can't hear you! >> i can hear you! [ cheers and applause ] >> i can hear you! the rest of the world hear you! [ cheers and applause ]
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>> and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon! >> for many he became a hero that day but soon the questioning started. >> did you not have any idea who was behind this? >> i mean we all surmised it was al qaeda, but before you make a decision to go find somebody, you want to make sure the intelligence is as good as it can get. the next couple of days we heard all kinds of chatter and celebratory talk. >> did you every ask yourself what more could i have done to prevent this from happening? >> we didn't have any solid intelligence to give us a warning on this. we didn't have any intelligence that said, get ready, they're going fly planes into the new york buildings. >> here's what you say. u i would pour my heart and soul
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into protecting this country, whatever it took. it took two wars. >> yeah. >> it took thousands of lives, american lives, billions of dollars. you could say it took guantanamo and abu ghraib and government eaves-dropping and waterboarding. did it take too much? >> we didn't have an attack. i vowed i would protect the american people. >> he'll discuss how far he was willing to protect america and talk about the credibility of intelligence when we continue. >> let's talk about waterboarding. sh bread that he'd made from our pale ale. and from that first bite, i knew my business would never be the same. [ male announcer ] when businesses see an opportunity to grow, the hartford is there. protecting their property and helping them plan their employees' retirement. ♪ beer or bread? [ male announcer ] see how the hartford helps businesses at achievewhatsahead.com.
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>> there were so many reports. some proved completely false in the hours and days after the attacks of 9/11. there were reports of bombs at national monuments. there were other planes supposed to be heading into washington. there was a threat apparently against air force one. >> called angel, that's right. >> then there was a story in the book that i didn't know about. dick cheney comes to you on one of the video lines and says, mr. president, we have a problem. >> yeah. >> it had never been reported before.
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a few weeks after 9/11, president bush, colin powell, and condoleezza rice were at an economic summit in china when vice president cheney and deputy national security adviser stephen hadley called them to a secure video conference. >> dick says the biodetectors have gone off, we think there has been a botulism toxin attack. >> at the white house. >> at the white house. >> we had all been exposed to it. had we inhaled it we could have easily been dead. stephen hadley says, mr. president, we will have mice tested soon. we kind of chuckled. said if the mice are, feet up, we're goners. if they're feet down, we're fine. >> some of the most powerful people are waiting to see if some lab mice die. >> that's what it is. the reason i tell that story is because it's hard for people to remember that right after 9/11 we were inundated with threats, a lot of threats.
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>> he and his staff were desperate for information on those threats. how they chose to get it is one of the most contentious issues of his presidency. one he seemed eager to discuss. >> let's talk about waterboarding. >> okay. >> we believe america is going to be attacked again. there's all kinds of intelligence coming in. and one of the high-valley al qaeda operatives was khalid shaikh mohammed. he ordered the attack on 9/11. they said he has information. i said find out what he knows. i said to the team, are the techniques legal. yes they are. i said use them. >> why is waterboarding legal in your opinion? >> the lawyer said it is legal. he said it did not fall within the anti-torture act. i'm not a lawyer. but you've got to trust the judgment of people around you, and i do. >> you say it's legal and the lawyers told me. >> yeah. >> critics say you got the justice department to give you the legal guidance and legal
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memos that you wanted. a former republican co-chair of the 9/11 commission said they got legal opinions they wanted from their own people. >> he obviously doesn't know. i hope mr. kane reads the book. it's in the book. they can draw whatever conclusion they want. but i will tell you this. using those techniques saved lives. my job was to protect america. and i did. >> you talk about khalid sheikh mohammed. there was another guy you write about in the book, abu zabeta. he was waterboarded. khalid sheik mohammed was water boarded 183 times. this guy was waterboarded more than 80 times. his understanding of islam was and waterboarding helped him reach that threshold and fulfill his religious duty and then cooperate and then you have a
quote quote quote
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quote from him. quote, you must do this for all the brothers, end quote. >> yeah. isn't that interesting? >> abu zabeta went to someone and said you should waterboard all the brothers? >> he said you should give brothers the chance to fulfill their duty. >> i don't think he said waterboarding. an assumption in your case. >> you must do this to all the brothers to allow them to get to that threshold. >> yeah, that's how i interpreted it. first, we used the technique on three people. captured a lot of people and used it on three. we gained valuable information to protect the country, and it was the right thing to do, as far as i'm concerned. >> so if it's legal, president bush, if an american is taken into custody in a foreign country, not necessarily a uniformed -- >> look, i'm not going to debate the issue, matt. >> i'm asking would i be okay to waterboard an american citizen? >> all i ask is that people read the book.
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they can reach the same conclusion. >> you you'd make the same decision again. >> yeah, i would. >> the united states military has begun strikes against the al qaeda terrorist training camps. >> far less controversial, the decision to invade afghanistan. at the time, a haven for terrorists. the base of operations for osama bin laden. >> when you were starting the war plans for afghanistan, i mean, clearly you had enormous public support. your approval rating after 9/11 went up to something like 90%. >> so. >> well, i'm just saying. you had enormous support. what were your fears about afghanistan when you were developing the war plan? >> first of all, the decision to enforce new doctrine, if you harbor a terrorist, you're equally as guilty as the terrorist was not that hard to make. it was hard after you removed the taliban. our nation was ill equipped for nation building. >> could you imagine in 2001 we would still be in afghanistan and still struggling? >> i was hopeful that that would not be the case. but i was also mindful, matt,
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and history tells us. democracies take a while to develop, including our own. >> how big a letdown was it for you, president bush, that we failed to get osama bin laden in afghanistan? according to a lot of reports we had him all most in our grasp in tora bora and used too to american commandos to get him. what's the truth? >> first of all, the truth was i was disappointed. deeply disappointed. i still am. and secondly -- yeah, i heard all that noise. we would have moved heaven and earth to get him if we would have known where he was. >> in any case, there was a new war to wage. how and why he decided to invade iraq next. did you personally have any doubt, any shred of doubt, about that intelligence? >> no, i didn't. ♪ trouble, trouble trouble, trouble ♪ ♪ trouble been doggin' my soul ♪ since the day i was born
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hey, there, everyone. i'm alex witt and here's what's happening. president obama is heading back
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to washington after wrapping up his trip to asia. he's expected to arrive back at the white house late this afternoon. people in the upper midwest are dealing with their first big blast of wintry weather in the twin city's area. nearly a foot of snow has fallen causing tons of accidents. one or two people killed. i look forward to seeing you all at the top of the hour. stay with us on msnbc. . in a conversation i thing you had with dick cheney during a period of the war in iraq, he said to you, are you going to take care of this guy or not. >> yeah. >> first of all, i was surprised by the tone the vice president would use with you. was it surprising to you? >> no. we had a very frank relationship. he would give me his unvarnished advice. >> leads to the question was dick cheney pushing you to go to war with iraq? >> it doesn't matter whether he was or not. i am the guy that makes the
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decisions when we move. i was trying to give diplomacy a chance to work. and he might have been saying, "let's go." but i said no. >> he said he's eventually decided to go to war based on saddam hussein's defiance and what seemed to be rock solid intelligence. on the subject of w.m.d.s, george tenet said it is a slam dunk, the intelligence, intelligence is. >> yeah. >> by the time you gave the order to start military operations in iraq, did you personally have any doubt -- any shred of doubt -- about that intelligence? >> no, i didn't. i really didn't. >> not everybody thought you should go to war. there were dissenters. >> of course, there were. i was a dissenting voice. i didn't want to use force. >> my fellow citizens, at this hour, american and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.
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snool on april 9th, 2003, 20 days from combat, and here comes that statue of saddam hussein crashing to the ground in iraq. >> whoa. >> describe your emotion. >> is was an exhilarating moment, but it was only a moment. shortly after that, i said we are not doing any victory dances. i knew full well task at hand was going to be difficult. >> you wrote in the book, i should have listened to my own advice. >> that led into the famous mission accomplished. >> in 2003, you stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier and you said to the american people. >> major combat operations in iraq have ended. >> and i also went on to say there's more difficult work ahead. >> but you stood under that banner, and it sent a very strong message, "mission accomplished." >> no question a mistake. >> one of the types your words were used against you over and over again. >> no.
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and that happens when you're president. and if i had to do it over again -- which you don't get to do when you're president -- i would have said, good going, men and women, great mission, or something. i don't know what it is, but -- >> in the summer of 2003, vice president dik cheney, one of the main advocates for the war, and lightning rod for its critics made a surprising suggestion. >> when you are getting ready to run for re-election he comes to you. >> yes, he did. >> and he says to you, mr. president, if you want to run with somebody else, it's okay. >> yeah. >> what surprised me in the book, you didn't just say, no, dick, it's you. you danced with the one you came with. it's us forever. you waited a couple of weeks to make that decision. and it sounds a little to me like you left him twisting in the wind. >> no, not at all. i'm a deliberate irv person. and i thought about it.
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but i came down to the, to this conclusion -- he was a solid adviser, he never went around my back, when i made a decision he supported it, and i liked him a lot. >> but during those first three years of your presidency, you heard the rumors out there. everybody was saying dick cheney is the guy. he's the president behind the scenes. he's running the white house. >> i know. >> you had to deal with that in another way too, you had the whole karl rove/bush's brain thing. how much did that sting? and would have replacing dick cheney on the ticket might have eliminated that? >> that is an interesting question. because had i said to dick, you are gone because i am worried about people's perceptions of me, it would have been a shallow, narrow-minded, self-serving decision. >> when you heard those things did it sting. bush's brain. dick cheney is running the white house? >> it didn't sting at all. the so-called, bush's brain, dick cheney, knew one wasn't brain and one wasn't running the white house. look. when you're the president, there are all kinds of things said
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about you. i mean it's just the nature of the job. >> another much tougher personnel decision presented itself a year later. >> it was the spring of 2004 when you first learned that american soldiers operating as guards at a prison called abu ghraib had terribly mistreated prisoners. can you just give me your first reaction, your first emotions when you heard that? >> yeah, sick to my stomach. >> not only had they mistreated prisoners, they had disgraced the u.s. military and stained our good name. >> you said you felt blind-sided. >> yeah, because i wasn't aware of the graphic nature of the pictures until later on. and some people in the white house expressed that -- my view into the newspapers, which then caused secretary rumsfeld to come in and offer his resignation.
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>> twice. >> which speaks to his character. >> you said i seriously considered accepting his advice. i knew it would send a powerful signal to replace the leader of the pentagon after a big mistake. but a big factor held me back. there was no obvious replacement for don. >> right. >> given the damage that abu gharib did to our reputation around the world, couldn't you have found someone to occupy that position? wasn't that the right message to send? now, here's what happens. we're in the middle of war, and if i couldn't have found somebody quickly to replace secretary rumsfeld, you would have been on tv saying there's a vacuum at the pentagon and sending terrible signals to our troops. >> how would you rate the decision to keep rumsfeld in the position when he offered his resignation? >> i think it was the right decision to make. >> he kept rumsfeld on the job two more years, even as iraq descended into chaos. >> do you think cutting troop levels too quickly was the most
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important failure of execution of the war? >> in the beginning of the war yes. and the security situation in baghdad got terrible. as you know. >> in the summer of 2006 you write it was the worst period of my presidency when it u came to iraq. for the first time you worried that we might not be successful. set up what was going on? >> the is was the worst time in my presidency period. reason why i thought we were about to lose in iraq. >> casualties were mounting, his popularity was plummeting, leaders of his own party were urging him to withdraw some troops, and yet you are thinking of doing the opposite, to use a poker expression, doubling down in iraq. what made you think that was going to be successful. give me your thinking on that. >> i didn't know what would be successful. i knew what would be unsuccessful. that was the current strategy. so i was coming to the conclusion throughout the summer that we needed to try something differently. >> the reaction to the surge immediately, one critic called it the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since vietnam, and that was a
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republican. >> a republican, that's right. >> that was a republican. so in terms of decision points, how hard a decision was the surge for you? where does it rank? >> it was a difficult decision. >> the serge reduced or eliminated sectarian violence. have you been given enough credit, sir, for the success of the surge? >> i don't -- i don't seek it. >> do you think you deserve it? >> i think it is an interesting decision that when people andize it will say, well, it was an interesting decision he made. the verdict is still out. >> the verdict is in on weapons of mass destruction. the main rationale for war. as we all know now, saddam hussein didn't have them. your words, no one was more sickeneded or angry when we didn't find weapons of mass destruction. you still have a sickening feeling -- >> i do. >> -- when you think about it. >> i do.
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i do. >> was there ever any consideration to the american people for what you did? >> apologizing would basically say the decision was the wrong decision. i don't believe it was the wrong decision. >> if you knew then what you know now -- >> that's right. >> -- you would still go to war in iraq. >> i, first of all, didn't have that luxury. you don't have the luxury when you are president. i will say definitely the world is better off with saddam hussein in power as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom. >> while you were president, more than 4,000 americans lost their lives in afghanistan and iraq. and yet even when public opinion was going against those wars and when your approval ratings were falling, it seems to me you got enormous support from military families. >> i did. i did. >> what did that mean to an embattled commander in chief? >> it means a lot because to earn the trust of our military and their families is a high honor for the commander in chief. i remember early on meeting with the chapman family. john had lost his life, and
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valley, the wife, came to see me with their two children. and at the end of our meeting, a tearful and emotional meeting, she hands me a note that says, "john did his job, now you do yours." that was emotional. >> but the iraq war divided the country and clouded his presidency. and the big storm was coming. you fly right over new orleans and you look out the window. >> yeah. huge mistake. i do a lot of different kinds of exercise,
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hurricane katrina -- was it the event that damaged your
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presidency more than any other event? >> i think it reinforced damage that was taking place. i had failed to get congress to move on social security. iraq was still very difficult. and so katrina came along, and it gave critics an opportunity to kind of undermine the presidency, i guess. >> so many times in the book you take pride in the fact that you were as a president were someone went out there and took decisive action. >> yes. >> whether it was controversial or second-guessed or not, you took decisive action. katrina was one of the examples where you didn't. >> the lack of crisp response was a failure at all levels of government. >> you are tough in the book on former governor of louisiana, kathleen blanco, tough on ray nagin. you said after four days it was clear to you the state and local leaders in louisiana could not lead. >> i don't think i was tough. i think i was fair. i think i say to a roomful of louisiana politicians, who's in
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charge of security? he says the mayor and the governor. the governor who is in charge of security. i get no answer. >> you went on to say she dragged her feet. for a come of days she could not decide if she would allow you or request to send government troops in. >> correct. and so here's the decision i faced. in order to restore order, some said send in federal troops. the problem is unless those troops are requested by the governor and/or i declare an insurrecti insurrection, those troops would have to go into what appeared to be a very violent situation without the ability to defend themselves. >> it's fascinating in the book. you actually said you went through the thought process, how's it going to look if a republican president usurps the authority of a democratic governor and declares an insurrection in a largely african-american city. >> it would have been like setting care seen on fire. >> i'm curious. by this time in your presidency
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had you heard so much criticism in some ways that you had become a little gun-shy? >> not at all. shortly there after i made a decision to send more troops into iraq. i am the kind of personality, the tougher it got the more willing i was to make a tough call. >> let's get to the picture we mail have seen more of you in the last couple of years of your presidency than any other picture. you're sitting in air force one, you're flying back to washington, you fly right over new orleans, and you look out the window. >> yeah, huge mistake. >> it made you look so out of touch. >> detached and uncaring. no question about it. >> whose fault was it? >> all is my my fault. i should have touched down in baton rouge, met with the governor. you know, walked out and said, i hear you, you know, we understand, and we're going to help this state and help the local governments with as much resources as needed, and then got back on and flown up to washington. i did not do that and paid a price for it. >> the other moment where there
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seemed to be a huge disconnect between you and, especially the people on the ground, was famously was fema director mike brown. >> yeah. >> you know, we were all watching, and we were broadcasting images of misery. >> i know, i know. >> he says the comment came after he met with the governors of alabama and mississippi, both republicans who both praised brown. >> i tend to boost people's spirits during difficult times. these two governors are saying this guy is doing a good job. and i say, brownie, you are doing a heck of a job. basically i was saying, good job, you're doing what we expect you to do. >> it's not what we were seeing. >> exactly. i understand. i understand. the only thing i can tell you is you are write. >> you write, the critics turned your words of encouragement into a bludgeon of you. awe they did. >> with good reason? >> yeah. you know, as president, sometimes your intentions get overwhelmed by perception, and my intention was simply to say to somebody who's working hard, keep working hard. and it turns out that those words became a club for people
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to say, wait a minute, this guy's out of tech. >> about a week after the storm hit, nbc aired a telethon -- >> yes. >> -- asking for help for the victims of katrina. we had celebrities coming in to ask for money. i remember it vividly. i hosted it. at one part of the evening, inintroduced down yeah west. were you watching? do you remember? >> george bush doesn't care about black people. >> he scald me racist. >> he said george bush doesn't care about black people. >> he said i'm a racist. i don't appreciate it then. i don't appreciate it now. it's one thing to say i don't appreciate the way he handled his business. another thing to say this man is a racist. i resent it. it's not true. and it was one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency. >> this from the book, i faced a lot of chris sichl as president. i didn't like hearing people claim i lied about iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich, but the suggestion that i was racist because of the response to katrina represented an all-time low. >> yeah.
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still feel that way as you read those words. felt them when i heard them. felt them when i wrote them. and felt it when i was listening to them. >> you say you told laura at the time it was the worst moment of your presidency. >> yeah. >> i wonder if some people are going to read that and they might give you some heat for it. >> i don't care. >> here's the reason for it. you're not saying the worst moment in your presidency was watching the misery in louisiana you are saying it was when some one insulted you because of that. >> i make it clear the misery in louisiana affected me deeply as well. there are a lot of tough moments in the book. it was disgusting moment, pure and simple. >> it may have been a low point but soon he faced a different kind. >> if you are president and you don't do something strong there may be a depression it gets your attention. >> the financial crisis next.
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in the fall of 2008, george w. bush's top economic advisers
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told him the banking system and therefore the whole u.s. economy was about to collapse. >> i'm paraphrasing at this point. you'd better do something big because if we don't, you're liable to oversee a depression. so the decision point here is do you adhere to your philosophy and say let them all fail. >> free market. >> yeah, free market. or do you take taxpayers' money and inject it into the system in hopes that you prevent a depression. and i chose the latter. >> yeah, you're right. you know, i abandoned the free market to save the free market system. >> i did, i did. i also put in there, my friends in midland, said what happened to bush? >> yeah, where was that conservative? >> yeah, what happened. when you're the president and somebody says, hey, if you don't do something strong, there may be a depression. it gets your attention.
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at least it got mine. >> you went with the t.a.r.p. program? >> we did. >> a lot of people call it the bank bailout. they hate it. >> they do hate it. i understand it. look. the idea of spending taxpayers' money to give to wall street and the banks to save them, a lot of people think they created the crisis in the first place. and so i can understand the angst. but in my case i wasn't worried about angst or contra a diction. i was worried about the economy going down. and i believe t.a.r.p. saved the economy. >> you said wall street got drunk. and yet i am wondering did you do enough? during the time of your presidency, did you do enough to take the keys of the car away from wall street? >> yeah. i say wall street got drunk, and we got the hang over, to complete the sentence. yeah, i frankly don't think this is a crisis of the lack of regulation. >> if you were president again and t.a.r.p. came up again you would do the exact same thing? >> absolutely. given the same circumstances. the other thing about t.a.r.p.
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that people forget is that we structured it so that the government -- or the people would be repaid with a really good rate of return, and as it turns out, that aspect of t.a.r.p., that's what happened. >> you know what else people seem to forget? a recent poll asked who created t.a.r.p.? 50% of the people say barack obama. >> oh, yeah? 50% of the people were wrong. it was under my watch. >> it is striking that in all our time with george w. bush he never criticized barack obama, barely mentioned his name. mr. president, you have remained mostly silent, largely silent over the last couple years. why did you remain silent? >> well, for two reasons. one, i just didn't want to get out there anymore. i didn't want to get back into what i call the swamp. i was trying -- i'm trying to regain a sense of anonymity. and the other reason why is i don't think it's food for a press are dency to the former
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president to be opining about his successor. president obama has plenty of critics. i am just not going to be one. >> when you left office, president bush, your popularity numbers were around 30%, give or take, depending on the poll. you say it didn't bother you. >> it didn't. >> i tried to personalize this. if i had been doing this job for 14 years. if after 14 years if 30% of people that watch the show thing i did a good job -- >> they'll fire you. >> it will hurt like hello. >> i don't think it will. you mentioned at one time, over 90%. i didn't take it seriously then. i didn't take it seriously when i left office. somebody walked up and said congratulations your popularity is way up since you left office. my answer was so what. seriously. i mean if you chase popularity, you're chasing a moment, you're chasing a puff of air. >> final question. you said that history is not ready to judge you yet. >> that's right. >> it's going to take time. >> true. >> when it does come about, president bush, do you think you